Another weekend, another frustrating loss for the No. 17 Iowa Hawkeyes. This time, it was a home loss under the lights in Kinnick Stadium, in throwback-inspired uniforms, to the No. 10 ranked Nittany Lions.
It might have been a new look for Iowa in the uniform department, but it certainly was not a new look for the team that lost 10-3 to the Michigan Wolverines just a week ago. This week, it was a 17-12 loss to Penn State. The run game was non-existent, but the offensive line played better. The passing game was...yeah, until its last drive, which did manage to break the touchdown curse.
This was a close game until late into the third quarter, until it wasn’t. Just like last week, a win was in reach, but the offense could never finish a drive. It certainly didn’t help that the Penn State punter seemingly pinned the Hawkeyes deep every punt. And the defense couldn’t make plays forever. Freshman running back Noah Cain was the x-factor for the Nittany Lions, rushing for 122 yards and a touchdown.
Stanley was able to march the Hawkeyes close to the red zone early, but the drive imploded thanks to a sack on second down (the down Iowa struggled with the most last week). However, the drive was good enough for Keith Duncan to nail a 47-yard field goal and take an early 3-0 lead, a lead that would take them into the second quarter.
Both teams continued trading punts, until Penn State created a 15-play drive in the second quarter that seemed to gas the defense with a strong combination of QB options, runs, and a throw and leap into the end zone that gave them a 7-3 lead with 8:36 left in the game.
An explosive play from the electric Tyler Goodson on Iowa’s next drive was the only successful play, but his 25+ yards gained was enough to get the team in field goal range, but this time, Duncan missed wide right, only his second miss of the season in 14 attempts.
But the defense managed to get a stop on Penn State’s next drive, and on Iowa’s next offensive drive, a defensive holding call prevented what would have been a sack on Stanley. The result? Brian Ferentz got aggressive with his play calling, letting Stanley throw to his tight ends and move the ball down the field with just under a minute left in the half. On third and long, he found Ihmir Smith-Marsette for a big completion and Iowa was suddenly in scoring position. A run on first and goal failed, and Stanley couldn’t connect with Smith on 2nd. And on 3rd and goal, Stanley was pressured but managed to get the ball off, which brought Duncan out once again for an easy chip in. 7-6, PSU, halftime.
Penn State received the ball to begin the second half, and drove down the field before AJ Epenesa finally came alive, effectively destroying two consecutive Penn State drives.
Just when Iowa started moving the ball, Tyler Goodson had his first bad play as a Hawkeye, fumbling the ball on a stretch run left, giving Penn State the ball on the Iowa 15. It looked like Penn State had scored a couple times, but a holding call and a reversed touchdown brought back both. The defense responded, stopping the Nittany Lions on the next two downs, before a questionable holding call on third down backed up the Nittany Lions. Penn State scored a touchdown AGAIN after the penalty, but got called for another holding call. Penn State had gone from first and goal on the 1 hardline to 3rd and goal from the 20. The Nittany Lions couldn’t convert, but did manage a field goal.
10-6, Penn State.
From there, it continued to be a battle of field position. Iowa’s offense continued to struggle, its defense continued to keep it close, and the Penn State punter continued to pin Iowa deep, making a difficult task for a struggling offense even more difficult.
And just when Iowa got bailed out by a questionable third down pass interference call on Penn State, Nate Stanley promptly threw a pick, and that pretty much sealed the Penn State win. A few plays later, the Nittany Lions found the end zone and it looked like Iowa was dead in the water.
But a little no huddle never hurt anyone, and suddenly, the Iowa offense had life. Tight ends were catching passes. The team was moving down the field. An an incredible leaping catch from Smith resulted in...-gasp- AN IOWA TOUCHDOWN. And on the 2-point conversion? A Stanley interception.
With 2:30 left on the clock and three timeouts. the Hawkeyes elected to not attempt an on-side kick, and Penn State responded by converting on 3rd and 3, thanks to running back Cain, who gashed the Hawkeyes all night long.
This is downright frustrating. Who’s to blame for these offensive struggles: Brian Ferentz? Nate Stanley? The o-line? The running backs? All of the above (most likely).
Yes, this is a tough stretch for this team that everyone highlighted before the season. Even going 1-1 would have been fine for most. But to go 0-2 in such a disappointing fashion makes it feel worse.
But hey, we know what this team is now, six games into the season: a classic Kirk Ferentz production, featuring a strong defense that can keep games against explosive offenses close, and an offense that can’t execute its end of the deal on the other side of the ball.